The Goop gift guide is here, which means it is truly the holiday season. This year, like all years before (or at least the past decade), Gwyneth Paltrow and company have many recommendations sure to delight your friends and relatives, either by presenting them with an actual $1,450 Gucci folding table with a snake on it or by sending them the link.
Goop is many things — expensive, for example; not scientifically tested — but unsavvy is not one of them. It often exists at the intersection of the aspirational, the absurd, and the dangerous — don’t sting yourself with bees! — and the brilliance of the enterprise is that the more ridiculous Goop is, the more attention it gets. Do you remember the jade vagina eggs? Of course you do. You’re a person in the world.
The haters are as essential to the Goop brand as those who buy in, emotionally and economically, to the white linen beauty of Goop life. Goop knows this: The 2018 gift guide includes a whole sub-guide — along with one for “Lovers,” one for “One-Step-Aheaders,” and one for those under 18 — of “Ridiculous but Awesome” gifts.
“Be honest,” the copy winks, serenely. “This is why you’re here in the first place.” This level of self-awareness is annoying, because it makes the whole thing much harder to make fun of.
You could, for example, present your beloveds with 24-karat gold rolling papers ($55), a hot air balloon lift to the summit of Mt. Everest ($5.95 million), or a disappointingly attainable subscription to a loofah-of-the-month club ($6 a month). The pièce de résistance of this section, however, is a village in Lugo, Spain — “For when it takes a village” — listed for the casual, gift-appropriate price of $172,910. On the one hand, haha, that is a staggering amount of money for a holiday gift. On the other hand, what a bargain! A village in Spain for less than the median price of a single home in Albany, New York.
“You shouldn’t have!” they’ll say, unwrapping their Spanish village on Christmas morning.
And they will be right, probably: You shouldn’t have.
I do not know how the Goopers chose this particular Spanish village (Goop did not, quite reasonably, respond to my questions about the list), but it is certainly not the only village on the market. A site called LoveProperty has a whole list of “villages and towns you can actually buy” (or could, circa 2017), which included a “spooky” abandoned British Columbian mining town ($995,000!), a French hamlet in the foothills of the Alps ($161,000), and a Catalan village in Llirt, Spain, which comes with “a total of 44 ruined buildings” ($805,000). There is a whole multi-cottage industry dedicated to the buying and selling of decrepit towns, many of which, like the Goop-endorsed Lugo village, are in Galicia, in the northwest region of Spain.
Galicia is beautiful. It is also filled with abandoned homes. As NPR explains, the Industrial Revolution pulled Northern Europeans into big cities centuries ago, but that mass country exodus didn’t happen in Spain until the mid-20th century, where it took place in waves: one after the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s; one after the fall of the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s; and a third triggered by the country’s more recent economic crisis.
“The lush Galician landscape once supported Spain’s highest population density, and half of all Spanish villages — some 3,500 hamlets — are located there,” reported NPR in 2015. “Now nearly half of these villages are abandoned.” According to one British realtor working in the region, older people living in the area don’t want to see these places die, but younger Spaniards don’t necessarily want to live there. Instead, they’re moving to bigger cities for “jobs, education, access to public transit, and health care,” which are compelling reasons to do most things.
This creates a market opportunity: Save the villages by selling them to foreign buyers, who are attracted by the low prices and the chance to live out their landed gentry dreams. The catch — you see this coming — is that it is very, very expensive to renovate a village that was potentially built thousands of years ago and has almost certainly been abandoned for several decades.
In Abruzzo, Italy — if you do not want a Spanish village, there are plenty of Italian ones — a town called Frattura Vecchia di Scanno, built by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago, was for sale for roughly $1.7 million, and included 70 buildings and a heart-shaped lake. “Too good to be true?” asks the Irish Times.
Obviously, yes, the paper gleefully explains: “What you can’t tell from the photographs, however, is that due to soil erosion, its buildings and infrastructure have been steadily crumbling ever since. A violent earthquake in the 14th century didn’t help, and when the town’s only bridge was bombed during the second World War it was virtually stranded: these days it’s connected to the main road by a single metal walkway.”
It is not that these properties are exactly bad ideas, if you are an aspiring hotelier or aspiring landed gentry. But they do often require a colossal investment, in the multimillions, to restore the properties to something resembling habitability.
A quick perusal of the Goop-endorsed village, with the help of Google Translate, suggests that while the main house has running water, electricity, a sewage system, and a functional roof, other buildings’ selling points are limited to features such as “walls.”
In conclusion, to give someone a Spanish village for the holidays is much like presenting them with an unwanted Keurig machine: The initial investment is a beautiful gesture, and now they will have to keep paying for it forever.